Urban art and rock n roll may not be the first things you think about the word ‘Harrogate’ crops up but, thanks to two young art dealers, RedHouse Originals gallery has firmly put the town on the ‘cool’ map. And this year the gallery has even bigger plans, Graham Chalmers reports.
When our newsdesk learned that a ‘Banksy’ had been spotted on a wall in the middle of Harrogate last week, only three people knew it probably wasn’t genuine – Jon Kendall and Richard McTague of RedHouse Originals art gallery – and Banksy himself.
Typically polite, Jon told us this piece of urban graffiti was certainly quite well executed but, well, he was fairly certain the mysterious Banksy didn’t paint rats anymore.
Despite the excitement around town about the discovery, both Jon and Richard, his co-director in this cutting edge Harrogate gallery, had every reason to be confident of their assessment.
Banksy’s work has appeared on several occasions on the cream-coloured walls of the two floors of their quietly hip gallery on Cheltenham Mount.
Despite only opening the doors to RedHouse Originals less than four years ago, these two far-sighted art dealers have already made it a mini mecca for fans of urban art, Pop Art and more.
As a result, contrary to Harrogate’s sedate reputation, if it’s young and a little rock n roll in contemporary art, you will find it here - thanks to RedHouse Originals.
And this year looks set to be their most ambitious one to date.
Inspired by the arrival of the Tour de France and the explosion of culture set to be triggered by the launch of its cultural companion, The Yorkshire Festival, this dynamic duo seem to have gone, well, a little crazy!
The next nine months will see their gallery play host to not one, not two but six new exhibitions ranging from the illustrations of David Hockney to an exhibition with David Rusbatch celebrating UK dance music and club culture to works on paper by Gerald Laing.
Not ones to miss a trick, June also sees them mark the arrival of the Tour de France to our district with a new exhibition by James Straffon.
Richard said: “It’s our most exciting programme to date and there seems to be a real buzz about the place. There are so many great things going on in contemporary art and opportunities for artists and collectors, it feels like a very special moment.
As well as holding a series of brilliant, eye-catching exhibitions, this two-man operation have also welcomed some important figures through their doors of RedHouse in person.
The ‘godfather of Pop Art’, Sir Peter Blake even turned up to open his own exhibition at RedHouse in 2011, a major retrospective of printwork with a total of 90 pieces.
Though both paid their dues at art college, there’s more to Jon and Richard’s success than enthusiasm or knowledge, as important as those two attributes are.
There’s such a thing as vision.
Jon said: “We don’t like to just fill wall space. Part of the reason we wanted out own gallery was that we didn’t feel that great Pop Art and urban art was being shown in the north of England as well as it should be.”
Having first met while studying art in Harrogate College (“we bonded over silkscreen printing,” laughs Richard), the pair parted ways at the university stage, Jon going to Leicester to do graphic design, Richard opting for stage design at Leeds.
By 2005 they were back together and making the decision to combine their twin passions by designing concert posters for major music acts such as Super Furry Animals, The Kooks and Kate Nash.
If drum ‘n bass musician and producer Goldie decides to let them have some exclusive prints, as he did just recently, or Pete Doherty of The Libertines and Babyshambles fame chooses to collaborate with RedHouse on an exhibition built round his Vive le Chien motif, it’s partly because they recognise a kindred spirit in Jon and Richard, and that spirit is rock ‘n roll.
If you pop into the gallery on spec, you’re likely to hear tracks by Tame Impala, Jimi Hendrix or Lou Reed coming from their office as they fire off emails and field phone calls at regular intervals over a freshly-brewed coffee.
Indeed, before swapping for a life in art, Richard was a member of local indie rock band Wayside.
Part of the brief of any successful art dealer or gallery owner is clearly to be as creative with the costs as with the ideas.
But these young art dealers work as much on hunches and passions as financial considerations, taking their own risks because, as true independents, they can.
If Sir Peter Blake wants to bring his colourful double decker art bus to Harrogate, great, feel free to park it outside our gallery.
That sense of seeing beyond boundaries started early for Jon and Richard.
They held their first public exhibition back in 2008 before they even had a gallery.
Andrew Stewart of 108 Fine Art gallery, Harrogate’s other important centre for truly contemporary art, took an instant liking to the fledging art dealers.
The result was a joint act of curation – Project One: Icons. Held at 108, the sense of style and panache and sheer good taste setting the template for successes to come once they acquired their own gallery.
The opposite of parochial in outlook, Jon and Richard seem to bond with young artists from the north with similar sensibilities in urban art and Pop Art.
They’re particularly close to Terry Cryer, the Leeds-based photographer.
This legend of the lens is now approaching his 80th birthday but has a lifetime of classic pictures of some of the 20th century’s greatest celebrities, from Elizabeth Taylor to Peter O’Toole.
Jon said: “My personal pick from our schedule is our show in August to mark Terry Cryer’s 80th birthday. There are so many important images in terms of social history and a huge array of photographs which have never seen the light of day.”
When it comes to younger artists, RedHouse is proud to support hail the north.
Richard said: “As well as Terry, we’ve discovered over the past few years that quite a few of the artists we showcase have links to Yorkshire.
“David Rusbatch is from Leeds and Rourke Van Dal Has a studio outside Bradford. Pete McKee, whose work we love, was born in Sheffield.
“Dudley Edwards, the artist who painted Paul McCartney’s ‘Magic Piano; he tours with lives near Wetherby.”
There’s that rock n roll link, again. Without consciously trying to cultivate it, the gallery seems to generate a natural glamour.
And that sense of cool starts with Jon and Richard and their love of both art and music.
It’s made RedHouse one of the the most important galleries in the whole of the north.